Nunavut’s next port looks destined to be built in Qikiqtarjuaq, but the project isn’t guaranteed to go ahead just yet.

Last August, the federal government committed $40 million toward the deep-water port, infrastructure that the Government of Nunavut covets.

“The Qikiqtarjuaq port project is an investment in strategic economic infrastructure that will transform Nunavut’s offshore fishery and allow our territory to realize a greater share of the economic return from this important resource,” Economic Development and Transportation Minister Lorne Kusugak said the Legislative Assembly in March, while seeking $13.3 million over five years toward the project, which had yet to enter the design phase.

Uqqummiut MLA Mary Killiktee, who represents Qikiqtarjuaq, voiced satisfaction on behalf of many of her constituents: “…a lot of people are pleased with this and it is a project that is getting a lot of support.”

Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes noted the “significant risks” that the GN has identified with the port: general cost uncertainty and construction delays, which Hickes suggested have become universal concerns, not exclusive to Nunavut.

He asked Kusugak what will happen if bids come in higher than the budget will allow. Will the GN seek more money to maintain the scope of the project or reduce the scope, and, if so, what aspects would be forsaken, Hickes wanted to know.

The minister replied, “If it comes in on scope then we would proceed. If it is going to be over (budget), by how much, right? If we can do it within the allotted amount of money we have, then we would go forward. If not, if it is higher than what we were anticipating then we would have to sit down and take a hard look at what other options we have going forward.”

Kusugak emphasized that the port will require the backing of the Inuit birthright corporations and their commercial fishing subsidiaries.

“They have to support this and hopefully they will get involved in this build for this project to be successful … we have to have buy-in and support from key players in the fishing industry,” he said. “If through the planning we find that there is no support, that the proponents that are heavily interested in this project do not buy-in or do not step-up, then it wouldn’t go beyond planning.”

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) subsequently provided this statement: “QIA is working diligently with our partners to ensure this project is a success; it is an exciting project and we understand the important role the port will play in the future of the surrounding marine economy. We have no further details to discuss at the moment.”

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Many spin-offs

Kusugak also pointed out that the port isn’t a stand-alone project as there will also be requirements for radio communications, marine repairs, security crew, fishery crew changes, bulk storage, fuel storage, a pump station, a minimum of 500-square metres of warehousing; several freezer containers, water disposal systems and roads to those systems.

There are numerous business opportunities associated with this, according to the minister. People will be needed to operate the freezers, to provide accommodations for the fishery crew shift changes, a small fish plant may be viable for processing the catches and tourism could get a boost from passenger vessels and other ships that use the port, Kusugak suggested.

“There are a lot more possibilities of this happening, and tourism and any help to the small communities like this means a lot,” he said.

The small craft harbour in Pond Inlet, awarded to Tower Arctic for $24 million and originally scheduled for completion in 2019, still needs some “minor adjustments,” but should be finished this summer, Kusugak stated.

Meanwhile, the deep-water port in Iqaluit is a year behind schedule and is expected to be completed by August. It is also being built by Tower Arctic, but the contract was for $65 million, coupled with a small-craft harbour for the city. While announcing the delay in 2021, the GN blamed the lag on Covid-19 complications and “lower than anticipated productivity from the contractor prior to Covid.” Specifically, equipment failure, equipment selection for the job and inability to advance the installation of the sheet pile wharf were cited as deficiencies.

Asked how mistakes made in Iqaluit could be avoided in Qikiqtarjuaq, the GN responded with a statement: “There are no specific lessons learned to highlight. The Government of Nunavut has developed experience managing marine infrastructure capital projects since the inception of the Iqaluit and Pond Inlet projects and will bring important insights into the Qikiqtarjuaq port project as it advances.”

Whether the GN proceeds with a port in Qikiqtarjuaq, more marine infrastructure is on the way for Nunavut as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has committed to build harbours in Arctic Bay and Clyde River while Transport Canada has stated it will do likewise in Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord.

Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...

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